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Through the Lens

New Illinois State Record Shortnose Gar

Sat, June 02, 2018

MADISON COUNTY - Illinois has a new record fish – a shortnose gar caught on May 27 on Horseshoe Lake in Madison Co. by Donald Lawrence of St. Louis, MO. The fish was certified by IDNR Fisheries Biologist Fred Cronin at 6 lbs., 15.2 oz. (previous Illinois record shortnose gar was 5 lbs., .96 oz. from the Vermilion River in 1999).
Anyone who has followed me for very long at all knows that I have such an affection (perhaps affliction?) when it comes to gar and the other prehistoric fish.  I really want anglers to stop viewing gar species as the enemy and start seeing them as a great sport fish. Gar are good!

You can imagine my excitement when I received the email from our Fisheries Chief Dan Stephens announcing the new hook and line record. Not only is this a new Illinois State hook and line record, it may well qualify for a North American record as well when looking at the NAFW HOF listing in the records book. It’s not currently known at present if the angler will be pursuing that record as well.

Angler Don Lawrence, of St. Louis, Missouri generously provided IDNR with photos and narrative.

“I purchased a fishing kayak in 2013 and I caught my first gar (longnose) on July 13, 2013 on Creve Coeur Lake and have been hooked (pun intended) on fishing for gar ever since. I’d never seen a gar before and when you get up close and personal, they are really quite formidable. Gar are long, slender, covered in fish scale armor plating and have mouths full of sharp pointed teeth! They are very powerful and will put up a great fight, if you can hook them. A hooked gar will often launch itself completely out of the water, shaking its head violently trying to spit the hook. I’ve lost more than my share of fish during this exciting and slightly dangerous time. In my opinion, gar are one of the best fighting freshwater fish.
My fondness for catching gar usually leads me to Horseshoe Lake in Madison County, Illinois. This old Mississippi oxbow is full of shortnose and spotted gar. As an additional bonus, the IDNR stocked the lake with alligator gar in 2016. The world record for alligator gar is 279 lbs.!! I’ve been hunting for ‘gator gar but have not come across one yet. I’ve had the best luck on this lake using cut bait or whole shad suspended a foot under a bobber. It’s exciting to watch your bobber zip across the lake then submerge as the gar chews on the bait. When fishing in this manner, you’ll need to be patient. Gar like taking their time and will chew a bait for a few minutes before swallowing. Most people do not eat gar, but they can be quite tasty. It’s worth a try. Gar are not deserving of the “trash/rough fish” label. They are apex predators and have not changed in millions of years; plus, they are a blast to catch!”

What I find most fascinating are the photos of the knife sheaths, and the preserved gar heads. I’ve just recently embarked on learning how to tan gar hides and have hopes of making a quiver by seasons end. I am firm believer in using every bit of anything I harvest, especially when it comes to these fascinating fish. While I have preserved gar heads seemingly everywhere around here (perhaps the gar skulls on the porch posts deter riff raff visitors?)  – mine are not quite as nice looking as Mr. Lawrence’s, so you can bet that I will be reaching out to Mr. Lawrence soon in hopes he will be able to give me some hints and tips.

Remember when you hit the water this year – Gar are good! The are great fun to catch, very tasty to eat, and a very useful fish; from the tasty meat, to hides, to scales. Please stop breaking their jaws, bashing their heads, and in general considering gar “trash fish”. They really are an amazing fish!

 

Comments

Those sheaths and heads are really nice.  The heads remind me of the gator heads you can buy as souvenirs in south Florida. 

I’m also a little surprised that any kind of record would come from horseshoe, its been the discharge lake for the steel mill since its inception.  The lake gets a bad rap locally but I’ve caught some nice crappie along the riprap in years past.

Posted by buckbull on June 02

Great read as usual Gretchen!
Those knives sheaths are so awesome….very unique!!!
Never seem gar skull mounts either.
I will have to read up on how to do those skull mounts, since we get some bowfishing & look forward to trying that now…

Posted by Lynn on June 02

Very very cool Gretchen!

Posted by hunterjjj on June 04

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